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Students At Private School Take On AIDS Debate

April 3, 1986

PEAPACK-GLADSTONE, N.J. (AP) _ Students at an exclusive private school have found that the debate surrounding AIDS involves more than learning its health effects. It is also about fear.

Gill-St. Bernard’s School, where tuition costs up to $6,100 a year for students from kindergarten through grade 12, is set in a rural campus in central New Jersey campus, far from the cities where most AIDS cases appear.

But in a day devoted to study of the deadly disease, students voted narrowly Wednesday that the school should admit a youngster afflicted with AIDS, at least in theory. Some students thought the vote would have been different if it had been for real.

In an academic exercise before the vote, students heard experts talk about the health, social and legal aspects of AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, which in the United States has largely affected male homosexuals, hemophiliacs and intravenous drug abusers.

A representative of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition also addressed students.

″Everything I heard makes it seem fine to have someone come in with AIDS,″ said junior Dean Holdiman of New Providence. ″The target question we were working with was, ‘Are you afraid of it?’ Half said yes, half no.″

″I feel more comfortable with the idea after today,″ he added.

″It would be very hard,″ he said, if the school tried to admit an AIDS student. ″But if the school prepared the students, it would make it a lot easier.″

The students agreed problems would surface if an AIDS victim came on campus.

″I think many people would be afraid of the student,″ Miss Tucker said. ″I think the way people react now would be different if they were really confronted with it. There could be a lot of discrimination.″

Doug Powell of the National Institutes of Health, who spoke to one group of students, said, ″I think it’s the parents who are most concerned about it.″ About 100 students, grades 9 through 12, gathered to vote on a hypothetical policy, based on state guidelines recently struck down by an appeals court for procedural reasons.

Under the state procedures, AIDS victims were allowed to attend public school unless they exhibited behavioral problems, excessive drooling or a lack of control of bodily functions. Disputed cases were reviewed by a state- appointed panel of doctors.

Six students endorsed the state policy as it was, 19 voted to consider individual cases and keep AIDS afflictions confidential, 35 voted to reject the policy and ban students with AIDS, and 21 voted to endorse the policy, but not keep an afflicted student’s identity confidential.

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is an affliction in which a virus attacks the body’s immune system, leaving victims susceptible to a wide variety of infections and cancers.

As of March 24, it had struck 18,576 people in the United States and claimed 9,865 lives, according to the government’s Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

AIDS is most often transmitted through sexual contact. Other means of transmission include transfusions of blood or blood products, and the sharing of contaminated hypodermic needles or syringes by drug abusers. AIDS can also be passed from mother to child at or before birth.

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